Echoes of Iraq Invasion Arguments: White House Turns Up Heat On Iran

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The Toronto Star

Echoes of Iraq Invasion Arguments: White House Turns Up Heat On Iran

by
Tim Harper

WASHINGTON-The screws are tightening, the warnings becoming more stark.1105 06

The autumn of 2007 in the U.S. capital is beginning to take on some unnerving parallels to the autumn of 2002, when the foundation was being laid for the invasion of Iraq.

Now it is Iran thumbing its nose at a Bush administration that is running out of patience and time.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the new Saddam Hussein and the U.S. Congress is wary of again being used in a march to war.

U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney is warning Tehran of unspecified "serious consequences'' if it continues its pursuit of its nuclear-enrichment program, President George W. Bush is tossing out references to World War III and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is complaining about foot-dragging at the United Nations Security Council.

A majority of Americans tell pollsters Iran is the biggest danger to international stability, but they don't know enough to know what to do. Throw this into the mix of a U.S. presidential campaign less than two months from crunch time and Iran and its nuclear threat are fast surpassing Iraq as the dominant foreign policy question in both the Democrat and Republican races.

The White House is adamant that it is seeking a diplomatic solution to any confrontation with Ahmadinejad but it has slapped some of its toughest sanctions ever on Iran's military and banking sectors and is getting way ahead of its allies in its determination to slow the Iranian nuclear pursuit.

"The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences,'' Cheney said last month.

Not to be outdone, Bush told a recent press conference, "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.''

On Friday, five powerful U.S. allies - France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China - agreed to push ahead with another round of UN sanctions against Tehran, but with a major proviso attached, further irritating Washington.

They said they would not proceed if the UN nuclear watchdog could indicate at a meeting later this month that Tehran was trying to meet international concerns and the U.S. State Department singled out China and Russia for slowing the international effort.

On Thursday, 30 U.S. senators - 29 Democrats and an independent who caucuses on that side of the aisle - wrote to Bush warning him he had no congressional authorization to strike Iran.

They were seeking to ensure Bush would not feel emboldened by a recent Senate resolution designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

"We are writing to express serious concerns with the provocative statements and actions stemming from your administration with respect to possible U.S. military action in Iran,'' the letter said.

"These comments are counterproductive and undermine efforts to resolve tensions with Iran through diplomacy.''

But the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Friday dismissed any need for Bush to seek any permission from Congress.

"What conceivable purpose would be served, at a time when we're trying to squeeze the Iranians economically, by telling them what we will or won't do in the future militarily?'' he asked.

"I can't think of any conceivable advantage that would give our country. In other words, it's a vote we really shouldn't take, in my view.''

On the campaign trail, Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois is drawing fire from frontrunner Hillary Clinton, junior senator from New York, and Republican opponents for saying he would sit down with Ahmadinejad.

Clinton alone voted to designate the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, but she also signed the letter warning Bush of unilateral action.

Obama has repeatedly criticized her for that vote, but missed the vote himself.

On the Republican side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani are vying for the most bellicose statements regarding Iran.

Obama channelled John F. Kennedy in explaining why he would negotiate with Ahmadinejad.

"JFK said, `we should not negotiate out of fear, but we shouldn't fear to negotiate,'" he said on NBC's Today Show.

The increasing shrill Bush-Cheney rhetoric has consequences, Obama said.

"It has consequences not only for our strategic interests, it has consequences for our troops in Iraq, and it has consequences for our economy,'' he said. "There's a reason why oil prices are now approaching $100 a barrel.''

There are fears here that if international allies do not work with Washington to isolate Iran, the chances of unilateral Bush action increases.

That threat is being aided and abetted by the Republican cheerleaders seeking to succeed Bush.

"If we learned anything from the 20th century, I think what we learned is you don't beg to negotiate with dictators, tyrants and supporters of terrorism,'' Giuliani said during a stop in Minnesota Friday.

You only deal from a position of strength, the former New York mayor said. "That's what I learned working for Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan didn't beg to negotiate with the Soviets,'' he said.

Romney said the military option must remain, but not be spelled out.

"I really can't lay out exactly how that would be done, but we have a number of options from blockade to bombardment of some kind.

"That's something we very much have to keep on the table, and we will ready ourselves to be able to take, because, frankly, I think it's unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons,'' Romney said.

© 2007 The Toronto Star

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